FROM MAE WEST TO PUNK: THE BOWERY ON FILM
May 16 – May 19
Recently named to the National Register of Historic Places, the iconic Bowery is NYC’s oldest thoroughfare. Indian trail, Dutch farm road, site of America’s first streetcars and Lincoln’s epochal anti-slavery speech at Cooper Union, it was the stomping ground for the Astor family, the swaggering Bowery Boys, immigrants, the working class, and gays. Even bluebloods came there on slumming tours. An incubator for American culture since the 1800s, the Bowery helped foster tap dance, minstrelsy, vaudeville, Yiddish theater, jazz, Abstract Expressionism, Beat poetry, and punk rock. Not bad for one street!
The Bowery on film dates to the earliest days of cinema, when its rowdy, amoral reputation provided titillating material for the 30-second peep shows viewed in arcades. It continued to be a popular setting for one-reelers and features (such as 1915’s REGENERATION), and featured even more prominently in the early sound era when Bowery-esque slang and song were exploited to the full in films like SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933) with Mae West. The ravaged lives of the Bowery’s skidrow have long fascinated artists, most famously in the semi-documentary classic ON THE BOWERY (1956). Scott Elliott’s SLUMMING IT is a wonderful overview of Bowery history, and Mandy Stein’s BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE is a poignant appreciation of Hilly Kristal’s CBGB, made during the legendary music venue’s final days.
With the Bowery imperiled by developers at every turn, we appropriately end the series with THE VANISHING CITY, a powerful look at the forces that threaten to obliterate the character and culture of our communities.
Co-presented with The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors. Curated by David Mulkins (Chair, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors). The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors is a grassroots community organization that seeks to preserve and protect the residents, small businesses, and unique character of the historic Bowery.
Special thanks to Dennis Doros (Milestone Films); Scott Elliott; Paul Ginsburg (Universal); Ron Hutchinson (Vitaphone Project); Mark Johnson; Anne Morra & Mary Keene (MoMA); Joe Reid & Caitlin Robertson (20th Century Fox); Lou Sabini; Lynanne Schweighofer (Library of Congress); Jen Senko & Fiore DeRosa; and Mandy Stein.